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None of us is born as an expert at living. We live by societal moral codes, trial, and error. When life happens, resulting in pain and distress, we find ways to cope. Some of us find comfort in unhealthy ways, like stress-eating or using drugs and alcohol. The problem with these coping mechanisms is the resulting addiction. And there are stigmas of addiction all around us.

Addiction attracts stigma. It has for millennia. Stigma is a set of prejudices held by society against a people group or issue. It views addiction as a high inadequacy to meet moral standards instead of the mental health issue it is. 

According to WHO, stigma fans discrimination, ostracizing and increases the abuse of human rights. Eradicating stigma is an important step in helping mental health patients get better.  

Here, we’ll discuss stigma and the 5 addiction stigmas that should stop. 

Why Stigmas of Addiction Miss the Point

People struggling with addiction can still be functional. In fact, almost 20% of US citizens struggling with alcohol addiction are highly functional according to NIIA. They are good at their job, and even award winners in different industries. This group doesn’t fit the disorderly and helpless image painted by stigma. 

However, their functional nature makes it hard to spot the signs of addiction. Their hangover phase may look exactly like it does on regular people after a night of partying. They are good at hiding the signs too. When prodded, they may attribute the signs to lack of sleep or sickness.

Perceived or real stigma helps the addiction by putting the person into perpetual shame. The shame in turn keeps them from seeking addiction treatment. The following addiction stigmas are the most prevalent.

1. Labeling and Unnecessary Joking

Language has the power to instantly term a person as less deserving. People struggling with addiction have often had the words junkie, crack head, meth head, cuckoo head, etc. thrown at them.

For the millions in recovery and those yet to start treatment, these words reduce their value from human beings to their struggle. 

While statistics don’t deny that addiction is a big problem, talking about it in derogatory terms perpetuates it. Shamed patients hide the addiction to avoid shedding the spotlight on what society already disapproves of. 

Using mental health terms as a joke is sadly prevalent. This often sounds fashionable. It may even make the speaker sound smart and knowledgeable. For example, asking someone “do you have a split personality disorder” because they have done something out of the norm is wrong. 

Joking about addictions makes light of the issue. It may teach people with little knowledge on the subject to assume addiction or mental health is a non-issue. 

In any case, mockery hurts. If a person struggling with the same issue hears that kind of conversation, they recoil further into the problem. It makes them think their struggle is a source of fun for others.

2. Stigma by Association

This type of stigma occurs when stigma is passed on to those associated with people struggling with addiction. Sadly, these are often the closest people to the patient. They could be parents, siblings, spouses, or extended family members.

The situation is worse for the dependents of the patients. Children, for example, may be bullied because their guardian appeared at school drunk. This also leads to name-calling and sets up the stage for developing mental health problems.

As much as it is hard to eradicate this kind of stigma, schools can adopt stringent measures to deter bullying. People can also take the initiative to avoid stigmatizing others in word or deed. 

3. Negative Media Depictions and Stigmas of Addiction

A 2013 review of public stigma published on Springer Link revealed that stigma was still rampant in the US despite increased knowledge on mental health. 

Media is very influential on human behavior. Crime thrillers often depict the villain as a mental health patient. This only exacerbates the stigma. Audiences may believe mental health patients are evil, murderous, and unfit to live with other people.

News reports and live interviews have also failed to watch language. You may hear words like a narcissistic abuser, a raging alcoholic, etc. These statements are usually based on misconceptions and only worsen the situation for people struggling with the issue.

4. ‘Snap out of It’ Ideology

No one starts drinking to get addicted. People do it to numb pain- at least temporarily. Addiction only comes with time, as they get attached to the mode of relieving stress. 

People often assume that addiction patients can just ‘get a grip’ and take control of their feelings to stop the addiction. A mood, for example, sadness, can last from hours to days. A person struggling with depression can be continuously sad for a long time. It’s not about regulating moods.

Addiction treatment takes time and different approaches to be successful. No matter how understanding you may be, no one knows exactly how the person feels except themselves. It’s unhelpful to assume emotions work the same in healthy people as it does with those struggling with addiction. 

5. Self-Stigma

Self-stigma is more common than we think. According to Psychology Today, 80% of our thoughts are negative and 95% are repetitive. Counseling Today says the longer you listen to negative criticism the more you believe it. The pandemic made this worse for residents of Orange County and more people globally.

Self-stigma from a mental health perspective occurs when a person struggling with addiction or mental health internalizes stigma from other people. The danger here is a belief that what other people say about you is true. 

The worst thing about self-stigma is it’s with you all day, every day, 365 days a year. It puts you in the best position to stigmatize yourself. The best way to stop it is to not start at all. 

Self-stigma can also be triggered by perceived stigma. For example, if you perceive stigma from the doctor’s office, it may keep you from vising helpful facilities in Orange County to get addiction treatment.

Covenant Hills Treatment: Who We Are

At Covenant Hills Treatment, we are a team of compassionate professionals with decades of experience in working with substance abuse patients. Contact us today for help with substance abuse, and we’ll be more than willing to help.